A Charlotte attorney, accused of mixing sex and the law, has asked for his license back after he was caught sleeping with a woman he was suing at the same time.
Steven DeCillis, according to a 2013 complaint by the North Carolina State Bar, “elevated his sexual interests above the best interests of his clients.”
The complaint says that while representing one woman in 2010, the lawyer improperly began representing a second woman his original client was suing. To compound matters, he then began having sex with his new client.
In 2013, his law license was suspended for five years, and DeCillis was ordered to seek psychological treatment for what is described in the complaint as a “sexual compulsive disorder.”
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Now, DeCillis wants to resume his legal practice that began 24 years ago when he joined the North Carolina bar. Four years into his suspension, he’s scheduled to meet in Raleigh with a star bar disciplinary panel in October in hopes of having his law license reinstated. He did not respond this week to Observer emails and texts seeking comment.
The case marks the second time the bar has confronted DeCillis about his behavior around women.
The state bar oversees North Carolina’s legal profession, while also attempting to protect the public from unscrupulous attorney practices.
The language of the organization’s findings against DeCillis summarizes the case this way:
“Defendant’s decisions to ... represent a client and have sex with that client at the same time he was suing that client on behalf of another client evidence a lack of judgment, trustworthiness and integrity.”
According to the complaint, here’s what happened:
In April 2010, DeCillis agreed to take the case of a woman who had been injured in a car wreck and wanted to sue the other driver. DeCillis filed her complaint that August.
Ten months later and while the lawsuit was still pending, DeCillis, without alerting his original client, agreed to represent the other driver in a series of unrelated legal matters.
At some point in this new business relationship, DeCillis also began sleeping with the other woman, the bar says. That represented a blatant conflict of interest that “violated the trust of both his clients and the justice system,” the complaint says.
The original client did not learn the full scope of DeCillis’ entanglements until August 2011, when the attorney presented her with a settlement check from the lawsuit and a document informing her of his personal and professional ties to the other woman.
While the bar was investigating the case, DeCillis underwent therapy for what he learned to be his compulsive behavior. According to the complaint, the attorney’s medical provider determined DeCillis “should not have unsupervised contact with female clients for the foreseeable future.”
This is not the first time DeCillis’ actions around women have come to the bar’s attention. In 2003, it threw out a complaint against the attorney for lack of evidence, but it noted a pattern of sexually aggressive behavior “not in accord with accepted professional practice.”
It added this warning: “Similar conduct in an attorney-client relationship would be the basis for discipline and could result in suspension and/or disbarment.”
In its suspension order a decade later, the bar gave DeCillis the option of applying for reinstatement after three years – provided, among other conditions, he can prove he has undergone extensive psychological treatment and “does not currently pose a sexual threat to females with whom he comes in contact with professionally,” including clients and witnesses.
He must also undergo an assessment by a therapist of the bar’s choosing.
Researcher Maria David contributed.